21 February 2013

Shorts on fire

I've noticed "fire" as a theme in three blogs. The first one I saw was iMonk Jeff Dunn: "On Fire ... or Burned Out?" In the course of his reflections on the overworked cliche, he asks, "Do you know when I realized I was no longer on fire for Jesus?" and describes a scene where he was able to let the mask of relentless Christian cheer slip in the presence of an agnostic employee. Both the essay and the comments are worth reading.

Next, fire in a slightly different context: "The Refiner's Fire," the eighth in Marcelle Martin's series on "The Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey." The refining fire she describes reminded me vividly of the Eastern Orthodox process of deification, described with the endearing tendency of early Friends to prefer functional descriptions over metaphysics or legalisms. In this fire, we die to ourselves and "put on Christ"--but there is no hint of compulsory cheerfulness or strenuous enthusiasm.

In "The White-Hot Gospel," Micah Bales reveals where the true fire is: in the living Word. As we yield personally and corporately to that Word, we don't become fiery heroes for others (or ourselves!) to admire, but together we present an alternative Gospel Order, a prophetic contrast to Empire. As the early Friends experienced this Holy Spirit covering, they realized that "the Kingdom of Heaven had come near, and all bets were off."

Micah is not, however, primarily recounting lovely scenes of our spiritual ancestors being formed by the white-hot Gospel. "This powerful experience of Jesus is available to us today."

Source: The Contemplative Cottage
I've done my share of curmudgeonly grousing over evangelical machismo and the passion fashion. But I've also quoted this story about Abba Joseph:
We are told in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers how a brother once came to talk with Abba Joseph of Panepho. "Abba," said the visitor, "according to my strength I observe a modest rule of prayer and fasting, of reading and silence, and so far as I can I keep myself pure in my thoughts. What more can I do?" In answer, Abba Joseph rose to his feet and held up his hands towards the sky; and his fingers became as ten blazing torches. And the old man said to the brother: "If you wish, you can become completely as a flame."
Isn't Abba Joseph presenting a third and fourth century equivalent of the heroism of which Jeff Dunn has grown weary? I prefer to think that, at the moment the visitor needed, Joseph simply became transparent to the Word burning within him. Far from demonstrating superior spiritual calisthenics, he was saying that this would also be possible for that visitor. Would my becoming completely "as a flame" would look exactly the same as your becoming completely "as a flame"? I don't know; but in any case, no such prescription appears in the story.

As important as the image of fire is in Quaker and Christian spirituality, maybe "transparency," while less dramatic, is equally important. In fact, as Micah's post seems to be saying to me, "fire" and "transparency" are yokefellows. How often I've needed to read these words!...
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131.)

It seems that when I have succeeded the most in quieting myself down that I have been closest to feeling the divine fire. This has little to do with passivity, but it does mean that I have to somehow wear through my own will to get an inkling of God's will. Here in Russia, in these specific times, I'm getting a lot of practice.

"On Illegitimate Authority" and the right not to show your receipt. "The thing is, my little rebellion against receipt checkers is about a matter that is very important to me, and that matter is how easily we submit ourselves to illegitimate authority. As humans, one of our greatest gifts from God is the gift of our free-will. We ought to be very careful about who we surrender that gift to."

"'I'll Pray for You'--Powerful or Pointless?"

"A Quaker Aymara blessing."

Stephen F. Cohen continues to challenge the increasingly prevalent conventional wisdom in the USA, namely "it's all Putin's fault." In the Washington Post: "How Obama can avert another Cold War." In Reuters' "Great Debate" blog: "Stop the pointless demonization of Putin." In the meantime, Russians themselves resort to humor. (And more on the Chelyabinsk meteorite.)

Quaker journalist/analyst/publisher Helena Cobban finds a new server for Just World News. Change .org to .com ....

Former Maryland governor Ehrlich announces "First Law School Clinic Devoted to Pardons."

A sad headline in today's blues news: the death of Magic Slim.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A little more fire: "The Early Quakers and the Fire Within."